From Gaza, pain and weariness in the voice of a pastor

By Judith Sudilovsky

JERUSALEM — I have not been able to reach Father Jorge Hernandez, the Argentine priest of Gaza’s Holy Family Parish, for some days now. In the morning yesterday I spoke with one of the Sisters of Mercy who have moved in with the priest together with the severally disabled children they look after. She told me they were fine, caring for the children and since it is the sisters’ policy not to give interviews to the press, she suggested I try to call Father Hernandez in the afternoon for more details about their situation.

Father Jorge Hernandez, a member of the Institute of the Incarnate Word, celebrates Mass at the Gaza parish in 2011.  (CNS/Paul Jeffrey)

Father Jorge Hernandez, a member of the Institute of the Incarnate Word, celebrates Mass at the Gaza parish in 2011. (CNS/Paul Jeffrey)

But when my call went through to his cell phone today — a phone call into the heart of war — I could hear the deep pain and weariness in his voice, something I had not heard in our previous conversations at the start of the fighting.

This afternoon, following the worst of the fighting in Gaza, Father Hernandez was apologetic to me. He could not answer my call, he said. There had been bombings near the parish church, he said, and he needed to attend to the people.

Hopes for a calm Eid al-Fitr holiday July 28 were shattered in the afternoon by heavy Israeli shelling that left 30 people dead, including 10 people — eight of whom were children from the Abu Shafaka and al-Mukdad families — in a park in the Al-Shati refugee camp and others at the Shifa Hospital.

The Israel Defense Forces denied responsibility for the attacks on the park and hospital, blaming them on misfired missiles from the Islamic Jihad, a claim Palestinians deny.

That same evening a number of armed Palestinians infiltrated into Israel through one of the tunnels the IDF says has been the target of their mission to destroy and a firefight ensued, killing one of the gunmen and wounding several of the soldiers. Israeli residents of the nearby communities were told to remain home and roads closed as soldiers searched the area to make sure no armed gunman remained in Israeli territory. A barrage of rocket attacks from Hamas into Israel reached all the way up the coast to the northern city of Haifa.

The tragedy of World War I and learning from past mistakes

By Henry Daggett

VATICAN CITY — Calling July 28 a day of mourning over the “tragic” outbreak of World War I 100 years ago, Pope Francis said he hoped the mistakes of the past would not be repeated.

“In particular, today, my thoughts go to three critical areas: the Middle East, Iraq and Ukraine,” the pope said. Referring to the escalation of violence in Israel and Palestine, the persecution of Christians and Muslims alike by radical Islamist movements in Northern Iraq and the political upheavals and violence in eastern Ukraine, the pope asked people to join him “in prayer that the Lord may grant to the people and authorities of those areas the wisdom and strength needed to push ahead on the path of peace by addressing each dispute with the tenacity of dialogue and negotiation with the power of reconciliation.”

Christopher Clark, a professor of modern history at the University of Cambridge, stated last week in the short Catholic News Service documentary, “1914-2014: Echoes of the Great War” that we, “should be anything other than complacent” as “this is not a safe world,” alluding to the growing problems of competing nationalisms in Ukraine, and the ever present religious issues in the Middle-East.

Cambridge University Professor John Pollard goes further to mention the “potentially very dangerous situation” in Bosnia and Herzegovina, where the “Croats are still very suspicious of the Serbs.” He concludes that, “we haven’t got very far since 1914.”

You can watch the CNS documentary below, as well as a video of the pope’s Angelus address.

Henry Daggett is a summer intern in the Catholic News Service Rome Bureau.



Pope promotes soccer for peace, harmony and charity

VATICAN CITY — The World Cup trophy has gone to Germany, but the soccer-loving Pope Francis and soccer-crazy Italians are gearing up for an all-star match to highlight sports’ potential to unite people and to raise money to help poor children in Buenos Aires, the pope’s hometown.

The interreligious Match for Peace, organized by Javier Zanetti, an Argentine soccer star and former captain of Italy’s Inter team, is set for Sept. 1 at Rome’s Olympic Stadium.

Javier Zanetti with Pope Francis in April 2013. (CNS/L'Osservatore Romano)

Javier Zanetti with Pope Francis in April 2013. (CNS/L’Osservatore Romano)

The participating players, according to Zanetti, include: Lionel Messi, another Argentine star who plays for Barcelona; Gianluigi Buffon, the Italian national team’s goalkeeper and captain of Juventus; Zinedine Zidane, a Frenchman now coaching for Real Madrid; Roberto Baggio, an Italian soccer hall of fame member; Andrea Pirlo, another Juventus player; Yuto Nagatomo, a Japanese player who is on Italy’s Inter team; and Samuel Eto’o, who was born in Cameroon and played most recently for Chelsea.

Zanetti said he’s been working for more than a year to organize the match. The idea to do it, he said, was born of a conversation he had in April 2013 with Pope Francis.

He said the pope brought up the idea of doing something to “create a moment of brotherhood and unity among people of different religious.”

“Since then we have been working hard to make this event an evening of great soccer and fundraising, but especially a celebration of peoples and an opportunity for common reflection,” he said.

Gianluigi Buffon and Lionel Messi with Pope Francis last August. (CNS/L'Osservatore Romano)

Gianluigi Buffon and Lionel Messi with Pope Francis last August. (CNS/L’Osservatore Romano)

All of the money from ticket sales will go to charity, he said. Through a foundation that Zanetti and his wife started, some of the money will go to a project called “An Alternative for Life,” which helps children in the rougher neighborhoods of Buenos Aires stay in school and do well. Other proceeds from the game will go to the “Scholas Occurrentes,” is a global network of school coordinated by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences at the suggestion of Pope Francis.

Buffon and Messi helped launch the global network last August after a meeting with the pope.

Belgian priest mathematician heads to space station –- in name only

Msgr. Georges Lemaitre, a Belgian mathematician who studied alongside leading scientists of the first half of the 20th century exploring the origins of the universe, is heading into space.

Well, at least his name is.

Technicians dressed in cleanroom suits to prevent contamination load cargo in ATV George Lemaitre. The spacecraft is set for launch the night of July 29-30 on a resupply mission to the International Space Station. (Courtesy European Space Agency)

Technicians dressed in cleanroom suits to prevent contamination load cargo in ATV Georges Lemaitre. The spacecraft is set for launch the night of July 29-30 on a resupply mission to the International Space Station. (Courtesy European Space Agency)

The European Space Agency has named the next supply mission to the International Space Station for the priest, who died in 1966 at 71.

Msgr. Lemaitre’s calculations suggested that the cosmos began as a super-dense “primeval atom” that underwent some type of reaction that initiated the expansion of the universe which continues today. His ideas were refined by other cosmologists, leading to the Big Bang theory on how the universe was born.

The mission is set for launch the night of July 29-30 from the spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana. Scheduled for an earlier launch, it is being delayed for five days to give technicians time to resolve a few glitches discovered during launch preparations.

Jean-Michel Desobeau, Arianespace quality deputy vice president , who is coordinating the mission with the ESA, told Catholic News Service the spacecraft will deliver dry cargo and research equipment to the space station. Six astronauts including two Americans, three Russians and a German, are aboard the station.

The resupply mission is the fifth — and last — coordinated by the ESA. The missions began in 2008 using the agency’s reliable automated transfer vehicle, or ATV.

ATV Lemaitre is the heaviest spacecraft to be launched by the ESA. It will stay docked with the ISS for up to six months before leaving filled with trash and eventually falling back to earth in a fiery ball over the South Pacific. Its engines are powerful enough to push the space station into higher orbit to offset the effects of earth’s gravity, Desobeau said.

Each of the ESA missions has been named for famous European scientists from the leading countries involved in the agency including Albert Einstein and Johannes Kepler (Germany), Edoardo Amaldi (Italy), Jules Verne (France), who may be better known for his science fiction writing than his work on the scientific front, and now Msgr. Lemaitre.

“We have a particular affection for Belgians in the European space program,” Desobeau said. “Belgium played a pivotal role as a small independent country, less prone to be blinded like France or Germany or Italy by industry interests. The Belgian political family played a very, very important role, like a moderator into the discussion. So having the fifth ATV carrying not only a scientist’s name, but a Belgian name makes the story quite complete.”

Although ATV Lemaitre is the ESA’s last resupply mission, the effort will continue with cooperative launches coordinated by world space agencies from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan and private contractors.

U.S. government releases song about the danger trains pose to migrants in an effort to stop illegal immigration

By Julia Willis

WASHINGTON –- While Central American leaders are attempting to confront the issues causing a flow of unaccompanied minors from leaving their countries, and the U.S. grapples with how to handle the surge, the federal government also has turned to music in an effort to impede illegal immigration.

A migrant travels north toward U.S. on a train in this file photo. (CNS photo/Reuters)

A migrant travels north toward U.S. on a train in this file photo. (CNS photo/Reuters)

As part of a new multimillion dollar “Danger Awareness Campaign,” U.S. Customs and Border Protection commissioned the creation of a catchy Spanish song with the aim of discouraging families in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador from sending their children to the U.S. border after crossing through Mexico.

The song titled “La Bestia,” or “The Beast,” begins with the sounds of a train coming closer. As it speeds down the tracks, drums begin to play and the sounds of the locomotive are quickly replaced by a snappy Caribbean beat created by specialized xylophones.

The song tells the story of the “wretched train of death” that carries thousands of migrants each day from Mexico’s southern Chiapas state to cities farther north, where passengers are forced to get off and continue to the U.S. border by other means.

Although many believe that a ride on “The Beast From the South” is the only way to secure a better life for themselves and their families, the song’s lyrics tell a different tale. “With the devil in the boiler,” the train is compared to a menacing snake whose “womb of iron” threatens to swallow riders whole.

Passengers are described as cattle riding to “the slaughterhouse, taking hell’s route within a cloud of pain.”

Although the lyrics may instill fear in the heart of any listener, the song has become a surprise hit in Latin America. Playing on 21 radio stations across Central America, the song depicting the real dangers of migration seems to have won the hearts of many Latino listeners.

But just as the song says that the Beast “does not know about favors,” apparently neither do radio stations — listeners in the Latin American countries are not being told how or why the song was originally devised. Almost a “Truman Show” situation, the only people who seem to have recognized it as propaganda seem to be U.S. journalists.

Many news organizations have contacted the song’s composer, Carlo Nicolau, to ask him how he feels about working with U.S. Customs and Border Protection for this mission. “I thought I was going to bed with the Devil,” Nicolau told The Daily Beast, a news and opinion website. “But I’ve learned that a lot of (border control agents) are risking their lives to help people not die.”

What the song’s lyrics leave out is that gang members have hijacked all routes to the train and are charging potential passengers $100 or more to board “The Beast.” In addition, it neglects to mention that passengers are risking robbery, kidnapping, rape and murder.

The most shocking aspect of the song is that it is not the first that the U.S. government has commissioned aimed at potential migrants. In 2009, the Border Patrol released “El Mas Grande Enemigo,” or “The Biggest Enemy,” on a five-song CD that aimed to convince Mexican listeners of the dangers of attempting to cross into the U.S. illegally.

Going to bat for peace

VATICAN CITY — With all the bad news coming out of the Middle East, this story shone a small beam of hope: the might of bats and balls against the thunder of missiles and misunderstandings.

A player from a team of priests and seminarians returns a ball during a cricket training session in Rome Oct. 22, 2013. (CNS photo/Alessandro Bianchi, Reuters)

A player from a team of priests and seminarians returns a ball during a cricket training session in Rome Oct. 22, 2013. (CNS photo/Alessandro Bianchi, Reuters)

In support of sport as a weapon for peace, a Muslim governor in Pakistan has donated funding, cricket bats and a national class cricketer to help coach the Vatican’s new St. Peter’s Cricket Club.

Ishrat ul Ebad Khan, the governor of Sindh province in Pakistan made the gift to “our friends in the Vatican as a token of friendship,” according to this article in today’s Daily Mail.

The “Vatican XI” cricket team of Catholic priests and seminarians studying in Rome was started last year, and is sponsored by the Pontifical Council for Culture.

The team will be heading off on a “Tour of Light” series of charity matches in England in mid-September, which will include matches against the Royal Household team at Windsor Castle and a team representing the Anglican Communion at Canterbury.

Governor Ebad said he’d like to see a “tri-team contest” between the St. Peter’s team, the Anglicans and a “Governor of Sindh XI” team comprised of Islamic theology students, as a way to show friendship and harmony through sports.

Proceeds from all the “Vatican XI” matches go to the Global Freedom Network, a new interfaith initiative between Muslims, Anglicans and the Vatican dedicated to fighting human trafficking.

SkySports just aired a nice profile of the St. Peter’s Cricket Club in this mini-documentary:

International newspapers report migration situation with blend of truth, hope

Guatemalan migrants deported from U.S. arrive at airport in Guatemala City. (CNS photo/Reuters)

Guatemalan migrants deported from U.S. arrive at airport in Guatemala City. (CNS photo/Reuters)

By Julia Willis

WASHINGTON -– Amid all the U.S. news media reports on the humanitarian crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border with the influx of children and adults, we decided to take a look at how the local press in Central America is reporting on the situation.

As gang violence remains rampant throughout El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras -– one of the drivers for migrants coming into the U.S. — local newspapers seem to be doing their best to maintain a sense of hope in the articles they publish.

While daily news outlets such as El Universal in Mexico have a duty to report the truth regarding the dangers of migration and the likelihood of deportation, they also attempt to encourage Latin Americans by focusing on small victories in the fight for U.S. immigration reform and increased relief services for migrant populations.

Although U.S. Rep. Robert Goodlatte, R-Virginia, who is chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, expressed his support for increased deportation of migrants in a recent interview with ABC News, El Universal presented a positive twist on the story in a July 14 article titled ‘Congress ready to give more funds.’

“I would definitely pass emergency funding targeted for what’s necessary,” Goodlatte said, “but most of the money that the president is asking for is to continue the process of further transporting these children and adults further into the United States. And that, I think, is what the American people don’t like to see because they know that that is not deterrence and that will result in even more people coming into the country. The projection for next year is 150,000 unaccompanied minors. It’s already projected to be more than 90,000 for the rest of this year.”

Other news outlets have attempted to describe the difficult process of deportation by highlighting the help that individuals receive once they have been returned to their home country. Media also is reporting that various agencies of local governments in Central America are meeting to assess the ongoing situation and discuss solutions.

El Heraldo, a daily newspaper in Honduras, reported a story about the first 18 mothers and 22 children returning to Honduras from the U.S. by focusing on the support that the Catholic and Protestant churches provide for these individuals in a July 14 article.

“We are working to develop a reception plan that first and foremost makes these families feel welcome,” said Ana Garcia de Hernandez, the first lady of Honduras. “In order to do this, we have asked for the support of the church, both Catholic and Protestant, so that each returning flight has that spiritual accompaniment, because these families are enduring a very difficult emotional situation.”

As young children continue to disappear throughout Central America, Prensa Libre, a daily newspaper in Guatemala, showcases stories about kidnapped children being reunited with their families and Pope Francis’ thoughts about the “humanitarian emergency.”

Although all of the Spanish-language papers I read described the suffering that migrants endure as they attempt to flee violence in their home countries, they also featured articles promoting hope and encouraging their people to look forward to peace and security in the future.